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When Pearl Higginbotham set out to make and sell whirlpool baths, she wanted to provide a quality product.

Higginbotham, who built a company and a network of friends, employees and customers, died of cancer at her Edina home on Dec. 5. She was 84.

Nearly 50 years ago, she was a single parent of four and selling Jacuzzi equipment door to door.

She founded Pearl Baths, a line of whirlpool tubs, in 1978. By the time she retired in the mid-1990s, she had made plenty of money, but that was not her goal, said a former president of the firm, Jim Grogan.

"She worried about quality and about the people that worked for her, and to make enough money so the place ran," Grogan said.

"Sometimes I just have to pinch myself to believe it's all true," Higginbotham said in a Sept. 20, 1989, Star Tribune article.

She was 55 when she began to make baths, and she found the road to success was rough. The fledgling firm came up with a tub with true whirlpool action (as opposed to jetted tubs often called whirlpools). When she believed it was presentable, she took the model to the Minnesota State Fair in 1979.

She sold quite a few, but when it came time to deliver them, she found flaws. So she called the buyers and said she'd return their money. After another year, Higginbotham was happy with the product.

Grogan said many of her former employees stayed in touch with her. "She was a very likable woman. When she walked in the room, there was going to be activity."

Her son Tom, of Eden Prairie, said his mother knew how to close a sale. "She would say, 'I am sending 24 tubs out there, and have a nice day,'" he said. "She had a network and contacts all over."

Higginbotham retired in 1994. In retirement, she gardened and spent summers at the family cabin in Grand Rapids, Minn.

She also was a philanthropist. In the 1990s, she began a Christian orphanage in Salem, India.

In addition to Tom, she is survived by her son John of Plymouth; daughters Mary Ellen Pinkham of Edina and Sue Rosener of Eden Prairie; brothers Glenn Mattson of Chanhassen and Roy Mattson of Omaha; seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

A service will be held at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Washburn-McReavy Edina Chapel, W. 50th Street and Hwy. 100. Visitation will be at 3 p.m. at the chapel.